Former CIA official has questions for the president -- and for the press

Paul Pillar says there are still questions to be asked about the path to war.

Published February 28, 2006 2:30PM (EST)

Paul Pillar, the former CIA official who made headlines earlier this month when he said that the White House went to war without regard for any "strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq," is taking aim now at reporters who haven't asked enough questions themselves.

In a short piece for the Nieman Watchdog, the man who coordinated intelligence on the Middle East until last year says the press should press more on both the run-up to the war in Iraq and the narrow focus of the 9/11 Commission. Among the questions Pillar would like to see reporters ask:

  • Why was more not done before 9/11 to counter the terrorist threat from al-Qaida in response to the intelligence community's highlighting of that threat -- as reflected in DCI George Tenet's public statements?

  • When was the decision to go to war in Iraq made, what beliefs and analysis led to that decision (as distinct from arguments used to muster support for the decision), and where did those beliefs and analysis come from?

  • When an intelligence assessment becomes a matter of public knowledge: Who asked for the assessment, why was it requested, and what determined how the questions were framed?

Pillar is particularly critical of the 9/11 Commission and the way in which the press has treated its report as a "holy writ." By choosing to push for a reorganization of the intelligence community, Pillar says, the commission missed an opportunity to examine the ways in which the Bush administration ignored or shaped intelligence. Pillar asks: "What effect, if any, does the reorganization have on the problem of insufficient or improper use of intelligence by the policymaker?"

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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